Would you let your pre-school child smoke a cigarette? Taste a sup of your wine at the dinner table? No? Why not? Everything in moderation...

The reason you wouldn’t isn’t because you know it’s illegal, it’s because you love your children and don’t want to see them come to any harm by ingesting things that are incredibly bad for their health. 

Yet a huge number of parents across Ireland are letting their children eat enough sugar and fat every day that it has the potential cause serious side effects in the long term such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

Am I scaremongering? Maybe a little. But this is serious. One in four children in Ireland is now either overweight or obese. Overweight children are more likely to become obese adults. And that’s when the problems really start.

Do your kids have too many sugary treats?

The statistic I find most worrying, however, is the fact that in a survey conducted by Safe Food Ireland, 54 per cent of parents of overweight children, and 20 per cent of parents of obese children, didn’t realise that their children were not at a healthy weight. They were reported as saying that they thought their children were “about the right weight” for their height.

OK, so a can of fizzy orange and a bar of something in a shiny purple wrapper aren’t going to do them much harm every now and then. I’d be lying if I said I’d never placated my screaming toddler with the promise of an ice-cream. But it can so easily get to the point where they’re having ice-cream, crisps and chocolate every day. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not pointing any fingers. In fact, I’m trying to remember the last time my own kids went a day without some kind of sugary treat. Unless you’re one of those super-parents who is able to whip up batches of delicious beetroot brownies in the shape of airplanes and ponies before you go to bed on a Sunday night (if you are, hats off!), chances are you chuck a fun-size chocolate bar in your child’s lunchbox to keep them going through little break, until they reach the, em, delicious ham sandwich at lunchtime. But we’ve got more on healthy school lunches (not a ham sambo in sight) here.

But now, back to scaremongering…

No, that’s enough of the scary statistics for now; but hopefully they’ve served their purpose in highlighting the fact that our kids are in danger of developing serious health problems if we don’t look more closely at their diets and exercise, and that’s not even mentioning the psychological impact being overweight can have. If you do want more facts, though, Safe Food has lots of them on their website.

Safe Food have some handy facts on childrens diets

I spoke to nutritionist Mags Carey, who is also the mother of three young children, and I started by asking her if she has noticed an upturn of worried parents seeking advice from her.

“What worries me,” she told me, “is that there I haven’t seen an increase in parents contacting me about this issue.” She references the Safe Food survey as a possible reason for this – that a lot of parents simply don’t realise their children have a problem with their weight – and offers the following advice to help parents identify whether or not their child may be overweight:  “As a very general guideline, a child should be half their age in stones – e.g. a 6-year-old should weigh roughly three stone. The biggest thing is for parents to check their child’s weight as a starting point.” Mags also pointed to the possibility that some parents may be embarrassed, or afraid of being judged, if they admit to their children having a weight problem. But, she says, “it’s time to forget about the taboo surrounding obesity and start tackling it head on.”

I asked Mags what, in three easy-to-understand points, she thinks the biggest contributor to our children’s burgeoning waistlines is. “Poor food choices, poor eating habits and exercise, or lack thereof” she replied, unwaveringly.

We've got 5 tips to help you keep your kids healthy

So, now that we have the facts, what proactive steps can we take to help our children become healthier and, in the long run, happier? Mags offers her top five tips:

1. Encourage a healthy relationship with food

Avoid using the word diet and referring to foods as good or bad. Instead, promote the idea of food as nourishment, for good health and a strong body and mind. Talk to them about smart food choices – educating them to avoid the processed foods we know are high in sugar, bad fats and salt and opting for healthier choices.

2. Don’t have them drink their calories

Fizzy drinks and smoothies should not be the norm, stick with water and milk instead.

3. Make it a family affair

Stick to regular meal times and keep an eye on portion sizes. Sitting down together as a family and sharing the same meal can go a long way to promoting a healthy relationship with, and love of, food. Getting the children involved in choosing and preparing the food will give them the food skills they need for life.

4. Good sleep

Essential for balancing the hormones that control our appetite and prevent us from over-eating.

5. Daily exercise

At least 60 minutes of vigorous activity every day.

For more LifeStyle tips and tricks, check out our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.